Monday, December 31, 2012

Caribbean Cruises in December 2012

(Once again, I can't seem to get the text to be next to the appropriate picture. It is close - I'm sure you will figure it out.) In late Nov. we drove our RV to Phoenix so we could park it at the Tempe Elks and fly to New Jersey for our 2 Caribbean cruises. While we were parked in Phoenix, we had a happy reunion with Marie and Rainer von Minden, and their dog, Christi.
Marie has been writing some children's books about the National Parks, featuring Christi. She is making them so that they can be published either as a regular book, or as an internet, interactive book. The one on the Grand Canyon is almost done and we got to see it - it was AMAZING!! So if you get a chance to see her books, jump on it. On Dec. 2 we flew to Newark and the next day we boarded the Explorer of the Seas. Some of our cruise friends were already onboard from the previous cruise, and almost all of us were doing 2 cruises back to back. Luckily, the weather was fairly nice the day we boarded and there was no snow. This was our view of New York from the top deck of the ship:
Notice the Statue of Liberty on the front left in the picture. The center part of the ship has a big, wide corridor called the Promenade. They had decorated this area with lots of banners, and also a huge Christmas tree. It looked so festive.
Also, in the Windjammer buffet, they had set up an extensive gingerbread house village, with a model train running through it and Santa Claus' sleigh and reindeer flying over the top:
On our first walk through the Promenade, after we sailed, we were delighted to pass the main 2 singers, James and Ann. They are both really great singers, and we have been on several ships with James before, and he is now one of our Facebook friends.
After James sang at the Welcome Back party, he posed for a picture with us:
The first formal night was the second cruise day, because there were no ports. We all dressed up for this, and here is a great picture of Bob & Jon, two friends we met on a previous cruise:
Linda and Laura, also friends from a prior cruise, decided to share a room on this cruise. They always look lovely:
Marcia & her twin, Lisa, arranged for all of us who had been together on the Voyager transatlantic to Dubai last spring, to have our picture taken together with Christmas hats:
From the left are Daryl & Patrick McGrath, Laura Spyrka, Lisa Romine, Marcia Albritton, Russ Gregory, and Elaine. Most days our gang would get together in the Maharaja Lounge, which was provided for the Diamond and Diamond+ members between 5 and 8:30PM every day. This is where we usually meet new people and schmooze with cruise friends from past cruises.
Our first port was Labadee, Haiti, which is a private island developed by Royal Caribbean, with nice, clean beaches and infrastructure such as bathrooms, zip lines, a roller coaster, water park, BBQ eating areas, etc . Marcia & Lisa had arranged for us all to share a private cabana on a cove reserved for people with suites, and this is a picture of most of us in the cabana:
They selected this one because it had a lot of shade, and this was the view of the ship from our cabana:
The next port of call was San Juan, Puerto Rico, a place we had been once before and enjoyed very much. San Juan is one of the oldest cities in the Americas and our ship docked right downtown in Old San Juan. On our way into the harbor, we passed El Morro, one of the old forts which was built to protect the city. It is now a national park.
Some people from Cruise Critic had offered to show anyone who wanted to join them, how to get to the Bacardi factory for a tour, for a much lower cost than taking the $32 excursion offered by Royal Caribbean. The local ferry terminal was located right next to our ship, so we walked over there and a round trip ticket cost 50 cents per person for seniors. A short ferry ride took us across the harbor. Here is a picture of the harbor which I took as we pulled in towards the dock:
Once we got off the ferry, we walked about 50 yards to a taxi area and for $3 each got a ride to the Bacardi factory where the tour was free. This is a picture of part of the nicely landscaped grounds:
This is the pavilion where we waited for our tour to start, and where we enjoyed the 2 free rum drinks which were offered before and/or after the tour:
The first place on the tour was a courtyard, where the Bacardi symbol, a bat, was prominently displayed:
Also in this courtyard was a series of murals done in tiles, showing the history of the development of rum and also the Bacardi company:
There was an informative movie about rum and the Bacardi family, and also a museum area where we were not allowed to take pictures. One of the more interesting areas was where we could lift the lids on wooden casks to smell the various types of rum which they produce. Then we had a demonstration in a simulated bar where the bartender showed how to make a mojito. As we left the building, we saw this local resident outside:
Our port time in San Juan was 2PM to 11PM. This was delightful because we could go out onto the streets of Old San Juan, which is the premier tourist area, where the old buildings have been restored and made into unique shops, bars and restaurants, to experience the colored lights and all the partying on the streets. Of course, there were many Christmas decoration as well. I didn't get any pictures because I forgot my camera. The next port was St. Thomas. This is such a popular island that often there are as many as 6 ships docked there. This day there were only 2, so it was quiet. The harbor was calm and dotted with ships, as the hills are dotted with vacation homes.
We did the lovely walk from our dock, along the waterfront promenade past the yacht harbor, through an upscale shopping area, and into the main part of the town, Charlotte Amalie. There was a small sailboat race going on, so we watched some of that, and also watched a floatplane landing and taking off. This is one of the ways people move between the islands. St. John is located a short distance from St. Thomas and many people like it better because it is quiet and no cruise ships dock there. On our way back to the ship, we stopped at one of the local craft markets:
The next day we were in Phillipsburg, St. Maarten. This is the Dutch side of one of the smallest islands, and is the smallest island divided between 2 countries, because part is owned by France, and is called St. Martin. Again we walked into town and passed more market stalls:
This part of town has three long streets, one right along the beach and 2 with lots of shops selling tourist items, such as jewelry, clothing, sundries, rum cakes, souvenirs, etc. These streets are a lot cleaner and nicer than on some other islands we visited on previous cruises.
After doing some internet stuff at Diamonds International, which not only provides free internet but also drinks in a VIP room, we started to walk back along the beach street. Our friends Doug & Jane Vickery, and Daryl & Patrick McGrath were having a beer and some food in an open front restaurant so they called us over to join them. That was fun and the beer was good:
Every port has a collection of shops and stalls right where we get off the ship, so they can try to fleece the people who don't want to bother to go further. St. Maarten has a very nice shopping area at the harbor and they had a beautifully decorated Christmas tree, so we posed in front of it:
Back on the ship, we now had 3 straight sea days to get back to NJ. These days were busy, because of all the events on the ship. Marcia and Lisa had a party in their junior suite for all the cruise friends from the Voyager:
You can see Lisa in the mirror and Marcia in front, and see how much they look alike. Marcia had brought lots of Christmas decorations and gifts for all of us, including stockings with our names on them, and a big magnetic sign for our door. Thanks, Marcia! Rod and Jo Shilling were also at the party. Here they are with his special Christmas shirt:
The next day was the last formal night, so we had a delicious dinner at the specialty restaurant, Portofino, with Bob & John:
The loyalty ambassador on the ship, Colette SA Joe, from South Africa, became a special friend of ours. We hope to be with her on another cruise someday.
Our second cruise started on Dec. 13, and once again, it was a sunny but cold day, with no snow. Our RV friends, Lee & Susie Blattner, joined us and it was delightful to see them again.
The second night, we all went to Portofino to celebrate their 50th anniversary. This restaurant has gourmet food, and because we get a 2 for 1 coupon in our Diamond+ book, it only cost $10 per person.
Our waiter brought them a special dessert for this occasion.
This cruise our ports were in the reverse order, so we visited St. Maarten first. This time we decided to take the local bus over to the French side to show Lee & Susie some of the island on the way, and also walk around a bit to see what it was like. This is a view from the bus overlooking one of the bays where there were lots of boats and yachts on the French side:
The French side is a bit cleaner and nicer than the Dutch side and the market stalls are different. One of the buildings had some interesting murals painted on it:
The next day we were in St. Thomas and it was so different than the week before because this time there were 6 ships in port, and one of them was the Oasis, one of the largest cruise ships ever built.
There were also a lot of very large yachts in the harbor near our ship. When we walked by the yacht harbor, there were some Christmas trees set up on the waterfront:
On the walk into town, we saw some wildlife near the creek:
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This cruise was the first one where we have had a balcony stateroom instead of an inside room. I didn't think I would like it, because I love the darkness and quietness of the inside room. But they have heavy curtains which cover the sliding glass doors to the balcony, so it wasn't too bad; and it was nice to have a balcony in the Caribbean where the weather was very warm. Here are Lee & Susie on our balcony:
The next port was San Juan, Puerto Rico again. This time we were there in the morning and were scheduled to leave at 2PM. Unfortunately, it was raining when we arrived and it pretty much kept up until we left. Thinking it might clear, and not wanting Lee & Susie to miss seeing San Juan, we went out anyway. There were fairly regular horses and buggies passing us, hoping to be hired for a ride:
This is an example of the old buildings in this part of San Juan. This is one that has not been renovated yet:
Many of the streets are paved with blue bricks. These were brought over as ballast on the ships which came over from Europe. Then they brought back lots of riches from the "new" world. Here is a picture of one of the streets:
Within just a few minutes, we were soaked, despite our raincoats.
And of course, just as our ship was leaving San Juan, the rain stopped and the sun came out. The last port was Labadee. Lee wasn't feeling well so Susie went with us to the beach.
There were lots of lounge chairs to lay around on, and trees which offered good shade.
There was a water park nearby:
Then we had a lovely sunset which could be viewed from our balcony:
This cruise we made lots of new friends in the Diamond+ lounge. Here are some of them: Bill and Kevin from New Jersey:
Enid & Nigel from England:
Tony & Kim were also from England. They had to get along without their luggage for 3 days because it was lost on the airline. They were very happy when it finally arrived at the first port. A few days ago we got a communication from them that their luggage was lost again on the way back to England. Don't fly British Air if you want to be well dressed on a cruise!
The last 2 days of the cruise we had very rough seas because of a storm hitting the East coast. Elaine and I were hoping to be bumped on our flight home, but that didn't happen and we made it back safely to our RV in Tempe late on Dec. 23. The 2 cruises were loaded with fun times with friends and no doubt will be repeated sometime next year.


CaliforniaGrammy said...

Great post with wonderful pictures. You two just really know how to have fun. Happy New Year!

Neil Johsnon said...

Think you can go an entire vacation without hearing the question made famous by kids all over the world: "Are we there yet?" It's possible with modern cruise ships and kid-friendlyclick here. You make me excited to post such pictures. Thank you for the post.